Emerging Arts Critics programme

Hi everyone,

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on something that’s become a significant part of my life this fall: for the past few months, I’ve been a part of the 2018/2019 iteration of the Emerging Arts Critics programme, which is co-administered by the National Ballet of Canada, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Canadian Opera Company. The programme brings together eight emerging writers, sends us to the season’s performances of dance, opera, and classical music from each participating company, and throws us into writing reviews of one performance from each genre.

If you’ve talked with me over the past few months, you’ve probably heard that I’m having a blast with the programme. Aside from getting the chance to work with professional reviewers/mentors in various settings (workshops, one-on-one editing, etc.), I’ve also realized the incredible value of getting to talk about art with seven engaged and intelligent peers as that art is happening. Of course, the performances themselves have been fantastic, too.

Partly, I thought to write about the programme now because my contribution to its dance aspect, a review of the National Ballet of Canada’s The Dream and Being and Nothingness, was just published on The Dance Current‘s website last week (along with reviews by several of my EAC peers, which you can find here). In addition, my review of the Canadian Opera Company’s debut of Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian is set to appear in the upcoming print issue of Opera Canada, which I’ve been told will be released later this month.

Working on these pieces has taught me a great deal–not only about how to review two unique and (to me) unfamiliar performance genres (for which I’m incredibly thankful to the editors of both publications), but also about how to write about and across the arts in general. To me, critical writing is simply the best way to think, feel, and learn through a work of art, and discovering that this is the case as much with dance and opera as it is with other forms has been inspirational. With these experiences in my back pocket (along with my anticipation of reviewing the Toronto Symphony Orchestra this coming spring), I’m even more confident about the future contributions I can make to the arts through critical writing.

As always, happy reading–but also viewing, listening, and thinking!


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“The Leader’s Wrongness” in Juniper 2.2

Hi folks,

Some good news today: the newest issue of Juniper, which happens to contain my short poem “The Leader’s Wrongness,” has just been released online! Juniper is an online poetry journal that’s been going strong since its founding last year by Lisa Young, an old acquaintance of mine from my days at Existere, and I owe her considerable thanks for including my writing. I’m also excited to discover that issue 2.2 features work from some other great fellow poets, including Dane Swan and Sonia Di Placido. If you’d prefer to just skip forward to my contribution, though, you can read “The Leader’s Wrongness” here.

The first draft of this poem pretty much came out of nowhere, and it still throws me for a loop. Hopefully you enjoy the read. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking forward to diving into the rest of this issue’s inclusions…

As always, happy reading!


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the ratio of an earthworm

Hi all,

I hope everyone’s coming to terms with our descent into fall. I’m sill on a bit of a high after my reading at Shab-e She’r last week, and I wanted to take the chance to celebrate another event from last month.

Back at the beginning of September, artists/curators/friends Larissa Tiggelers and Patrick Cruz were generous enough to include some of my verse and visual poetry in their outdoor art exhibition and gathering, the ratio of an earthworm. The poems include “Exit,” one of the many I’ve written for my houseplants, and some visual pieces depicting my houseplants from above. It’s difficult to tell in the photographs, but these really look fantastic, especially insofar as they’ve been incorporated into the physical environment of the backyard. Being someone whose work is normally only reproduced on paper and computer screens, it blew me away to see my text integrated with the dimensions of concrete space and light.

Many thanks to Larissa for these photographs, and to Hiba Abdallah (another fabulous artist/friend) for helping with the installation!




Although I won’t post any more pictures here, I think it’s also worth highlighting how much I enjoyed the exhibition/gathering itself. To my understanding, Larissa and Patrick imagined the ratio of an earthworm as a chance for artists to show their work in a one-day, no-strings-attached celebration of creativity and community, without the hassle of dealing with the fine art institution. In this pursuit, they absolutely succeeded. Perhaps more importantly, though, I was overwhelmed by the experience of seeing everyone’s art (and there was a lot of it) in a garden setting that integrated each piece with the earth and plant life in its environs. Having that kind of aesthetic experience in a setting that differed intensely from the conventional white cube opened my eyes to the truly innumerable ways art can impact the mind and soul.

If any of this interests you, Larissa also produced an excellent exhibition text for the event that you should check out; you can find it on her website here. Hopefully, there will be more events like this in the months and years to come!


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Feature reading at Shab-e She’r on September 25th

Hello everyone,

I hope you’ve been having a great summer! Not too long ago, Bänoo Zan (incomparable poet, superstar organizer, and…well, if you’ve spent any time in the Toronto poetry scene, you know her already!) asked me if I’d like to feature at her monthly poetry night, Shab-e She’r, which happens to be one of my favourite open mics in the city. Fast-forward a few weeks, and the announcements have been made, the tweets have been retweeted, and the facebook event is live–in other words, it’s happening! I couldn’t be more delighted to be featuring alongside Jennifer Alicia at the event, and I really hope you’ll join me there.

Aside from the general quality of the work that graces Shab-e She’r’s stage, I find that the event’s diversity of styles and voices makes it an excellent window into the landscape of contemporary poetry. If you’d like to come listen (or even read a piece on the open mic!), you can catch it on Tuesday, September 25th–6:30pm for open mic sign-up, and 7:00pm for the show. The event costs $5, and you can check out the facebook event for more details. Also, note that the September reading will be held at the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick Ave.), not the Church of St. Stephen in the Fields (which is a bit of a shame, since I love the church’s architecture and acoustics, but ultimately I think both are great venues).

Shab-e She’r prides itself on being “the most diverse poetry and open mic series in Toronto,” and while I suspect that folks like me don’t contribute very much to that boast, I’m hoping to reflect on the theme by sharing some work that tries to situate my ethnic and cultural identity. It’s tricky business, of course, so I’ll probably let the poems do most of the talking. But I have received some really encouraging feedback on recent work I’ve embarked on in this vein, so I couldn’t be more excited for the chance to present it to Shab-e She’r’s audience.

In any case, I’ll see you next month!



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“Sunlight” in The Malahat Review 203 (summer 2018)

Hi all,

The new issue of The Malahat Review showed up in my mailbox just yesterday, and I’m excited to announce that one of my poems, “Sunlight,” is nestled within its pages! I’d like to extend my thanks to the journal’s editors for selecting my piece, and for the care they’ve taken in publishing it.

Although it’s not absolutely explicit in the journal (nor should it be, now that I see the poem in its published context), “Sunlight” is one of many poems that have emerged from my thinking about and caring for the houseplants that have accompanied me through the last several years. I do think, however, that there might be a fair bit more to take from the poem, so I hope that you find your own truth (or opinion) within it if you get the chance to pick up an issue.

In any case, and as always, happy reading!



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The fourth J: reading at knife | fork | book this Friday

Hi all,

Although there’s been quite a bit going on over at my Instagram, it’s been a while since my last blog post. Nonetheless, I wanted to take a second to say how excited I am to be reading for a second time at knife | fork | book, which has pretty quickly become my favourite poetry venue in Toronto. While my last reading there coincided with the launch of my Anstruther Press Manifesto Series chapbook, this one is owed mostly to an accident of birth: Kirby (k | f | b’s lovely proprietor) had the wonderfully weird idea of booking a sausage party (his words) with four J-named individuals, and I happened to fit the bill. (Although, as James Lindsay pointed out on Twitter, the quartet of himself, Jimmy McInnes, Jim Johnstone, and me is more precisely three Jameses and a John, so perhaps my being there wasn’t predestined after all?)

In any case, I have a great deal of respect for each of my co-readers and the various dimensions of their poetic work, and I’d highly recommend coming out to see them. For my part, I’ll be seizing the opportunity to present a mix of old favourites and new, unpublished poems that I hope will make for a good show overall. And besides all that, knife | fork | book is just about the coziest place you could find yourself in the early hours of a summer Friday night; just remember you’ll be asked to take off your shoes!

The show takes place this Friday, June 15th, with doors opening at 6:30 and poetry beginning at 7:00 (sharp!). Knife | fork | book is located at 244 Augusta Ave. (second floor) in Kensington Market. See you there!



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Slogan, Substance, Dream: keywords for a responsible poetry at the Anstruther Press Spring Launch

Hi everyone,

It’s been a long winter. I don’t think I’m quite ready to pull myself out of hibernation on my own, but it looks like the forces of the spring launch season are beckoning me into the limelight: this Friday, I’ll be reading from my new manifesto chapbook, Slogan, Substance, Dream: keywords for a responsible poetry, at the Anstruther Press Spring Launch at Jeff Kirby’s much-beloved Kensington Market bookstore, knife fork book. I’ll be launching alongside the venerable authors listed on the poster below, and though I only have a few minutes, I’m looking forward to offering some of my thoughts on the new chapbook and reading from a section or two. Doors open at 6:30pm this Friday, March 9th at knife fork book at Kensington’s Dark Side Studio (244 Augusta Avenue), and the poetry begins at 7:00; check it out on knife fork book’s blog or facebook.

If you’re planning to come, it’s best to keep two things in mind: (1) bring cozy socks, since the shop/studio is a shoeless space; (2) kfb events, at least as far as I understand, start ON TIME!



Slogan, Substance, Dream is something a little special; rather than a book of poetry or creative fiction, it’s a concise prose manifesto written for Anstruther’s Manifesto Series. The series is edited by Shane Neilson, and Jim Johnstone and Erica Smith also contributed immensely to the chapbook’s execution; I owe them all great thanks for helping me get it out into the world.

Shane first asked me if I’d be interested in writing a manifesto at least two years ago (perhaps even longer), and although I’ve been committed to the project since then, my thoughts and beliefs about poetry and my role in it have transformed many times since I began writing. Several people who have read the final version of Slogan, Substance, Dream have told me that it is very much a poetic text–full-blown poetry, even!–but even as I take their evaluation seriously, I can’t stress enough that it isn’t the case for me. Even at its most abstract and imagistic, the manifesto is my best attempt at honestly expressing what I believe my and others’ poetry should strive for.

The manifesto (like much of my PhD research, which, though distinct, has greatly inspired it) is about responsibility, and part of the process of writing it has involved grappling with the question of whether expressing my “should” (or, indeed, writing anything called a “manifesto”) could ever be a responsible act. In truth, I’m still not sure it is. However, my work on the project has led me to the conclusion that, in order to present myself as a writer at all, I can’t help but strike a balance between acceptance and assessment, absorption and imposition, listening and speaking out. In other words, to respond ethically to the world in an act of creative expression, I also have to be confident enough to expose the person I really am and the thoughts I really think. And if this means that, ostensibly, I sometimes pursue the fantasy of imposing my beliefs on others, I only hope they realize that I’m just one person, that the power I have over them is only that of one person in a world of very many, and that I have no interest in presenting myself as anything else.

One of the ways of summarizing the argument of Slogan, Substance, Dream would be to say that this is all a manifesto–or perhaps any piece of writing–can or should do. With that in mind, there’s nothing left for me but to leave it to its work.



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The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection


Hi all,

For the past 16 months, I’ve maintained an Instagram account @selected.works dedicated (mostly) to showcasing pages from my artist’s book The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection (which was in fact completed and printed some time earlier). I used the account to highlight and quote from pages of Jacques Lacan’s original The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis that I felt were relevant to my project; in the process, I learned a lot about Lacan, my own creative work, and the world of Instagram (or at least the parts of it I connected with).

Since I’ve reached the end of my volume (though it is, of course, only half the size of Lacan’s), I’ve decided to bring the project to a close, at least for now, and to think about turning @selected.works towards new ends. To mark the occasion, I’ve also decided to make available some additional documentation pertaining to A Selection: specifically, a short artist’s statement I wrote nearly two years ago to collect some of my motivations for and reflections on the project. That statement is copied below. If you’ve been following the project, I hope it’ll provide you with some intriguing background material. And if you’ve never seen A Selection before, I hope this will entice you to dig into the Instagram posts!


The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection

Artist’s Statement


The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis: A Selection is a typographical artwork inspired by appropriation art, conceptual writing, and visual poetry. In its complete form as a 142-page printed book, the project operates as a “selection” of Jacques Lacan’s classic text (first published in English in 1977) in at least two senses: first, as an editorial selection of approximately half the lectures included in the original volume; second, as a graphical erasure of approximately half the ink used in the original publication of the selected sections, a result achieved by typesetting the volume in a font variation (designed by the artist) which renders visible only part of each printed letter. Thus the scope of the project spans, on one end, the editorial and visual reproduction of Hogarth’s original publication of Lacan’s text and, on the other, the development of the “Manque” font variation, which could be applied to any text.

The project’s methods draw inspiration from several sources. Its use of appropriation and material reproduction is inspired by the work of appropriation artists such as Richard Prince, especially his reproduction of Random House’s first edition of The Catcher in the Rye. Conceptual writing’s focus on the materiality of text, the labour of reproduction, and radical mimesis provides additional context for these techniques. Meanwhile, the design of the “Manque” font variation draws inspiration from the processes of erasure poetry as well as the visual styles of asemic writing and non-Latin scripts.

Lacan’s The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psych-analysis emerged as an ideal source text for the project for a variety of reasons; in many ways, in fact, the text seemed to suggest the parameters of the project of its own volition. Superficially, the project mimics the format of Bruce Fink’s first translation of Lacan’s Écrits (also the first work of Lacan’s to be published in English), which included only a selection of Lacan’s original essays and was subtitled as such. The publication history of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis also offers an excellent case study of the problems of reproduction and translation explored by A Selection. Originally presented by Lacan as an oral seminar, the lectures that constitute The Four Fundamental Concepts were first collected as a printed text (and given their popular title, which was not Lacan’s) under the editorship of Jacques-Alain Miller, who has since been accused of distorting Lacan’s voice and thought. As Alan Sheridan’s translation of the French text puts the 1977 Hogarth publication at yet another level of remove from its supposed origins, the book’s appearance in English carries with it a deep suspicion of the status and value of these origins even before its reproduction in A Selection. That Lacan is often considered fundamental to the line of postmodern thinking obsessed with this suspicion is perhaps no coincidence. Finally, the thematic structure of Lacan’s seminar provided a ripe target for editorial re-imagining: by “selecting” approximately the first half of the book for republication, A Selection redesigns Lacan’s seminar to culminate with his discussions of the image and the gaze, foregrounding his most direct commentaries on the visual effects of the “Manque” font variation. In a sense, the project attempts to prove the relevance of Lacan’s comments on mimicry (as presented on page 99 of the text, the only page rendered in regular type in A Selection) to the relationship between textuality and visuality: concerning the limit beyond which a script ceases to signify and becomes no more than a picture, “It is not a question of harmonizing with the background but, against a mottled background, of becoming mottled—exactly like the technique of camouflage practised in human warfare.”

The name of the font variation “Manque” references Lacan’s famous manque-à-être, a neologism derived from the French word for “to miss” or “to lack” but rendered in English as “want-to-be” by Lacan himself. Alongside its application of manque-à-être to the field of the letter (itself an important agent within the unconscious, according to Lacan’s well-known essay), “Manque” thus also incorporates the problems and history of translating Lacan’s thought into its very identity.

John Nyman
January 7, 2016





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The Toronto Zine Off and Epistolary Shapes

Hey all,

I had to post a little bit about the fabulous first (with hopefully more to come) Toronto Zine Off, which I attended last night at The Steady (a well loved venue that will unfortunately be closing at the end of the month–it will be missed!). Organized, in part, by friend and fellow poet JM Francheteau on the model of his Ottawa zine offs, the event was intended as a deadline to create a new zine to trade with fellow zine makers. In short, I took up the challenge, had a blast, and came home with a bunch of zines to thumb through! I’d say the night was quite a success, and I’m looking forward to follow-ups being announced on the new Toronto Zine Off facebook group.


Here’s my and Miles Forrester’s zine, Epistolary Shapes, next to some promo copies of Carousel generously provided by Mark Laliberte:


And here’s JM’s photo of all the zines he collected last night (my haul was pretty much the same):


Epistolary Shapes came out of a collaborative project Miles and I started this past summer, before he moved out to Montreal to study at Concordia. The two of us wrote short poems by responding to each other line by line, ensuring each line fit a pre-established length constraint. Although we had always had the intention of transforming the resulting source texts into visual pieces, it took the zine off to finally push us into realizing our vision: after a marathon bout of editing and visualization (all of the final products were put together over about 24 hours), we came up with eight visual poems for the zine. Here are two:


Overall, the past few days have been a pretty exciting way to jump back into zine culture. It’s been a while since I did anything more than gawk at all the tables at Canzine (which I’m not even sure I’ll get to do this year, with IFOA events looming large on my schedule), but last night really reminded me that it’s zine people who make zines such a valuable part of culture. I met and chatted with a lot of fine folks last night, from old friends to new, and I hope to see more of them soon!


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Reading at the International Festival of Authors October 21

Hi all,

I’m still pretty hyped from my reading at The Sophisticated Boom Boom last week, but it’s about time now to push forward and look ahead to my next performance, which will in fact be quite different. As a very welcome follow-up to my reading at the International Festival of Authors Poetry NOW competition earlier this year, I’ve been invited to participate in the festival’s main programming next month! I’ll be featured as part of the “Poetic New Worlds” event on Saturday, October 21st alongside an all-star cast of poets, including fellow Poetry NOW performers Dane Swan, Amanda Earl, and David Goldstein, as well as the contest’s winner, Stuart Ross. Honestly, though, there are just too many amazing and deeply respected poets on the program to list…you’ll just have to come out and see them! The event takes place at 4pm on Saturday, October 21st, in Harbourfront Centre’s Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West). Tickets are $18 or $15 for IFOA sponsors, and can be purchased here, but admission is free for students and youth! This year’s entire IFOA festival takes place between October 19 and October 29.

I’ve said this before, but being invited to perform on the IFOA stage is a huge honour. It should be obvious that this is a BIG festival with BIG names, and among other things it’ll probably have the biggest audience I’ve ever performed for. In addition, I’ll easily be the least experienced poet on stage at “Poetic New Worlds.” Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to helping put on a great show, and to getting a chance to share my approach to poetry with a new set of engaged listeners and readers.



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